“Attila the Hun? Lovely chap until he wasn't”
Flavius Aetius (397-454) is often described as the 'Last Semi-Successful Roman General'. He attempted to keep what was left of the Roman Empire (in the West) free from Goths, Vandals and Urban spray-can artists. Aetius sent Attila the Hun packing at the Battle of Chalons and planned to go on the offensive. He seemed to have covered all the right bases but was betrayed and murdered by his Imperial boss Roman emperor Valentinian III is an argument over a wedding guest seating plan.
Running with Huns
Aetius's early days have long been forgotten so it's up to historians to speculate wildly and inspire film makers. Though he latter became an enemy of the Huns, Aeitus at some period spent a lot of time with the skin wearers. He learnt to speak Hunnish (Ich bin ein Hun Liebhaber) and ended up smelling like one. One suggestion is that he was traded by another Roman general Stilicho in exchange for horses and women but that is a probable lie.
Certainly by about 420 Aetius was back in the Roman empire as basically an ambassador/recruiting sergeant to add friendly Huns to the army. Whilst he was away on one particular mission, there was a change of bosses in Ravenna (the imperial capital) when useless Roman emperor Honorius died and was replaced by bureaucrat quill pen chewer called Ioannes. It seems Aetius had a connection with the latter because when a year latter the avenging Roman princess Galla Placidia over threw the quill pusher and installed her son Valentinian III, Aetius had already promised to support Ioannes against his enemies and turned up outside Ravenna with his new Hun recruits. When asked where Ioannes was, he was told to look at the spiked head above the gate.
Factions, Fractions and Decimated points
Aetius's poor start with the new government should have led to a quick banishment or at least, a trip to Constantinople to see if the Eastern Roman Empire were looking for an expert in Hun affairs. The Roman ruler there Theodosius II was suspicious of Aeitus and refused to read the application scroll.
So Aetius lay low for awhile until he was given the job of re-conquering southern Gaul from the Visigoths. Aetius had a modicum of success and made vague promises to a British delegation that their decision to leave the Roman Empire after a Brexit vote could be reversed. Aetius soon forgot that (hadn't the Britons voted out in 410??) and returned to Ravenna for a bit of honest Roman politicking (spreading lies, poisoning and false accusations).
He had two main rivals. General 'Smilius' Boniface (a smiley faced Roman) in North Africa and General 'Furry' Felix, a cat-eyed Latin with a taste for processed meat. Both fought to gain Galla Placidia's attention as she was in charge on the Roman Empire (Western Division) as her son Valentinian preferred to play with his toys and whip slaves. Felix eventually put a paw wrong and was executed (along with his luckless wife and a passing bishop) for treason. This alarmed Felix's ally Boniface. Looking for pliable mates, Boniface had called in the Spanish holidaying Vandals to join him. However that relationship ended quickly when the Vandal leader Genseric helped himself to the Roman provinces of North Africa there and declared his independence.
Back with the Huns
Aetius had expected a promotion to 'Magister Utriusquae Militiae' (MUM for short), a title held by other strong men and ranked only below the Emperor and a few in-house eunuchs. However Boniface re-appeared (minus his command and army) and should have expected a swift or excruciating punishment (depending on the Imperial Will). Instead Galla Placidia promoted Boniface above Aetius as the former had 'nice legs and ass'. Aetius lost his job and prized chariot parking space outside the imperial palace in Ravenna. Aetius thought about taking this to court but since that was in effect Galla and Valentinian, chose to go to war with Boniface and killed him. He also took Boniface's wife as a bonus prize (though she appears to have been quite positive about the match, Aetius quickly became a dad).
The new supremo made an official visit to see his friend Attila, newly proclaimed co-king of the Huns with a brother called Bleda. Aetius wanted the Huns to be the Roman Empire's new allies against the Germanic tribes that had already caused plenty of trouble. Attila agreed, he didn't like Germans either but his own army was full of them. He also asked Aetius to 'look the other way' as he pushed his brother Bleda under a passing stampede of horses.
Satisfied he had the Huns in pocket, Aetius tripped off to Constantinople to see his opposite numbers there. Valentinian was due as he had agreed to marry Licinia Eudoxia a daughter of East Roman Emperor Theodosius II in 437. The Eastern Romans were suspicious of both Aetius and his Hun buddies. Attila had already raided their half of the Roman empire from the Huns new hangout in Pannonia. Aetius cordially returned the distrust shown to him but insisted that they shared a more urgent common enemy in the Vandal king Gaiseric. Persuaded to go 'Vandal' before 'Hun', the end result was a defeat of both Roman Empires by the wily Vandals. In addition Theodosius had denuded his frontier forces in the Balkans which allowed Attila to go on a long and very lucrative rape and pillage walkabout, only ended by a huge bribe.
Huns want more
Aetius seemed quite adept in playing off his enemies. He saw himself as the glue, the 'araldite' holding what was left of Valentinian's shrinking dominions. Aetius now viewed the Visigoths more dangerous than the Vandals and it was he who suggested Valentinian make an alliance with the pirate against the Visigoths. Valentinian willingly offered up one of his young daughters for that arrangement (once she hit puberty). This would bring a Roman-Vandal reunion. All seemed positive for the next decade until Valentinian's sister Justa Grata Honoria contrived to send a note to Attila offering herself and Rome if only the Hun came to Italy and rescue her.
Aetius had sent off a messenger to Attila trying to explain to the Hun that it was just one of Justa Honora's 'little jokes' and it wasn't to be taken literally. Attila chose otherwise (he had a poor sense of humour anyway) and now re-directed his horde away from the Eastern Roman Empire to swivel and invade the Western half instead. Aetius knew he had to act quick when his message to Attila was returned in a bucket with what was left of his envoy.
In Ravenna Valentinian tried to kill his sister but his mother Galla Placidia refused her son that wish and sent Justa off into a short exile. Instead she urged Aetius to create an anti-Hun alliance. Writing a letter of help in Latin (and Gothic) to Theodoric, King of the Visigoths, she pleaded with them to back Aetius and stop Attila. Aetius travelled to the Visigoth in his (plundered) capital of Toulouse in Southern Gaul. It was a bit of a session of 'who do you know?'. Theodoric came up with a list of fellow German barbarian kings whilst to Aetius's surprise, the newly arrived Bretons in Brittany (on the run from the Anglo-Saxons) also pitched in troops. Aetius said it was an alliance of Christians (Catholic and not-so-Catholics) against the pagan destroyer Attila and his motley crew (not that Mötley Crüe))
Great Billing, Questionable Outcome
The 'great bout' as it was billed between the Good Romans and the Bad Huns eventually took place near a French town called Chalons. But then again, it may have not been there but elsewhere. No one seems to have actually known what went on that day in 451, since even the day it took place is in dispute. The Visigoths and Ostrogoths (separated for about a 100 years in an acute fashion trend dispute) fought on opposite sides and left conflicting accounts.
The main fighting was between the Visigoths and Ostrogoths - how fashion matters! - which saw plenty of black wigged Goths cut down by a similar attired opponent. Aetius - despite being the overall commander of his side - barely took his sword out for a good wave around, making one flanking attack on the Huns. Fearing to be cut off from the wagons full of plunder, the Huns retreated back to their camp.
No one actually knows for sure who 'won' and who 'lost'. Attila is counted as the loser since it was his army that moved off the battlefield and headed back home but perhaps they always intended to do it. The Huns wanted to bleed their victims, not kill them off completely. Attila in particular loved Roman plumbing. However Aetius got his propaganda out quickly and was helped since his main ally Theodoric of the Visigoths had been pin cushioned with arrows during the battle.
Wheels come off
The following year (452) saw Attila return West but this time he headed south into Italy. Aetius was in Gaul as he expected Attila go back for a return match. Eventually Attila gave up on Italy (after another impressive haul) after getting spooked by the Pope. Shortly after Attila died, unheroically in bed after a night out on the alcoholic sauce. Aetius refused to celebrate his old friend/enemy's demise, sensing perhaps he needed the Hun to keep him in work. This was proved very quickly when the Huns rapidly fell apart as a fighting force.
For Aetius 454 therefore looked promising. He had exiled another Roman general 'Major-Major' (Majorian) (later an emperor) who had made goo-goo eyes at Placidia (the Younger), the barely teen aged daughter of Valentinian. Aetius reserved her for his son Gaudentius. Placidia's elder sister Eudocia was to marry Genseric's son Huneric (named after his father's alliance with Attila's tribe). Perhaps then with this sorted out, Aetius could go back to his first love - Visigoth smashing.
Eventually in 454 a call came in for Aetius to return and report to his emperor. Valentinian's mother had recently died and he had recently drowned his sister Honoria in a bath of Eau de Colonia for her previous treachery with Attila. The emperor's new 'friend' was a wealthy Roman called Petronius Maximus. He said privately Aetius was aiming for the imperial throne and that Valentinian would have to do the bloody deed himself as Aetius regularly wore a stab proof vest and walked around with a bodyguard. Aetius agreed to meet Valentinian alone (and unarmed) but was stabbed to death by the sneaky emperor who had hid a knife inside his underpants.
Whether Aetius was given a burial or fed to the dogs is not recorded. Perhaps he was 'Felixed'.